by Greg Remaly, pro triathlete
-2004 Memphis in May winner
-2006 3rd place Wildflower ...

San Luis Obispo (SLO), California, is a pastoral oasis from the densely-populated and commotion-filled Southern California coast and Bay Area that most people see when they think of California. Located on the relatively secluded Central Coast, SLO is a triathlete’s paradise if you crave mild year-round weather and traffic-free country roads to bike on, and don’t mind the long distance from any big city (San Francisco is 250 miles north; LA is 200 miles south) and relative lack of quality training partners compared to places like San Diego, LA, and Boulder.

Geographically, SLO is nestled in the Santa Lucia Mountains, eight miles from the coast. You can find practically every kind of terrain here: Long flat/gently rolling valleys in either direction, coastal flats within 8-12 miles away, extinct volcanoes to run on within the city limits, rugged coastal mountains all around, and endless steep hills just over the Cuesta Grade,
a 3 mile, 7% climb just north of the city on the 101 highway, which runs right through town.
The city of San Luis, nestled up against the San Luci
Mountains. You can see the 101 Highway snaking through the city on
its way over the Cuesta Grade north, or zigzagging to Pismo Beach and
the coast 12 miles southward.
Click on the photo to view the full size image

SLO has a four month rainy season from mid-November to mid-March, in which you can expect on average about 3-6 inches of rain per month. But in between that time it practically never rains, so you don’t have to worry about your bike rides getting rained out. Average daily temperatures in the winter are lows in the 40s and highs in the low 60s, though there are many winter days that get up the 70s. In the Spring, Summer, and Fall, expect lows in the 50s and highs in the mid 70s. You can find much cooler weather on the coast, just eight miles away, when it is hot in SLO, and if you desire temperatures in the 90s or hotter, you can do your long bike ride up over the Cuesta Grade, which, because it is more isolated from the ocean breezes, gets very hot during the summer. It usually gets quite windy here after noon, so I would highly recommend getting in your bike ride before it gets too late in the day.
San Luis Obispo is a small city of about 50,000, though you need to add 10,000 to 15,000 to that number if you include the college students of California Poly-Technic State University (Cal-Poly), located in the northeast corner of the city. Culturally, SLO is a mix of its rural agrarian roots and proto-typical modern California culture with its exercise, environmental, and alternate-lifestyle friendly sensibilities. It has been picked as one of the top small cities to raise a family in numerous national polls, and was recently picked the number one small city by Runner’s World Magazine. The drawback to SLO’s great climate, beautiful scenery, high quality of life is a high cost of living. Buying a house here is extremely expensive, and although it is not as bad as San Francisco, Santa Barbara, or a lot of Southern California, renting an apartment or house will not be cheap either.


There are several good outdoor 50 meter pools in the area. Sinsheimer town pool is the most accessible with a $2.25 daily fee. A decent masters swim team swims there from 5:45 to 7:00 AM M-F. Other options include the Cal-Poly pool, which either requires a student/faculty ID to use or membership with the masters swim team that swims there; the Cuesta Community College pool, which charges $3 for non-students; or the private Kennedy Club Fitness centers in either Atascadero or San Luis Obispo, which offer full fitness equipment and gyms in addition to outdoor 50 meter pools. Daily passes are $15, so your best bet is to get a yearly membership, which ranges from $350 to $650.


You’ll find great scenery and many well-paved rural roads here. I’d advise anyone cycling here to use arm and leg warmers that can easily be taken off, since you can cross into different climate zones between the much cooler coast and the much hotter hill country over the coastal ranges. Also, be advised that it does get fairly windy here after about noon, so get your riding in early if you dislike the wind.
There are a fair number of area group rides with local cyclists and triathletes. I would suggest contacting Art’s SLO Cyclery in town for info on group rides. It is also a great place to get some gear and get your ride tuned up.

Favorite rural rides:

Lake Lopez:

Take the rolling Orcutt Rd for 12 miles southward from town, then make a left onto Lake Lopez Drive, which winds up to the lake three miles later and proceeds to go alongside the lake for 3 more miles before you get to the campgrounds. Lake Lopez is ringed by mountains and has to
be one of the more beautiful areas in California. This is the venue for the Scott Tinley’s Dirty Adventures Triathlon, one of the races in the Tri-California Pro Series. For a longer ride, take a right on High Mountain Road just before you reach the campsite. This road turns to dirt after
about eight rolling, mainly uphill miles, so there is almost no traffic.
Beautiful Lake Lopez. I can easily imagine that I'm in New
Zealand as I take in this scenery.
Click to view
the full size photo

Huesna Road:

Take Orcutt Rd to Lake Lopez Drive like you are going to the Lake, but turn right at the T intersection and continue west on Lake Lopez Dr for about 3-4 miles before making a left onto Huesna Road, which in the fashion of High Mountain Road, twists and winds gradually uphill
on its way to absolutely the middle of nowhere. I have not actually came to the end of the pavement of this road, but it is at least 15 miles of glorious traffic-free road that twists up
and down canyons and across golden-green meadows.
A well-paved road way out in the middle of nowhere: Huesna Road
Click to view the full size photo

Good Climbs:

See Canyon:

1.5 miles at 9%. This road turns to dirt at the top of the climb, so it is best for doing repeats on. Be careful your first time descending this climb, as it is very twisty and steep (12-15%) in parts.

Cuesta Grade:

Bikes are allowed on the 101 from the most northern exit/entrance of SLO (Monterey) to the first entrance/exit up after the summit of the Grade (Santa Margarita), an eight mile stretch. Within that stretch is a 3 mile, 7 % section known as the Cuesta Grade. The shoulder throughout this whole 8-mile stretch is ample, and the climb itself is very evenly graded, so it can be good for steady strength climbing. Its drawbacks are the sometimes heavily traffic and the somewhat dangerous lane cross at the summit and descent.

Old Creek Road:

A rural, twisty, and somewhat steep climb along similar lines to See Canyon, and along with the Cuesta Grade, a favorite way among area cyclists to get up over the coastal ranges and into the hill country. It starts with a moderate two mile climb before a swift mile descent into a narrow canyon, where it winds gradually uphill for a couple miles before a steep 9 % two mile ascent up to the top.
Go about 18 miles north on Route 1 out of SLO, and Old Creek will be on your right, just before you reach the coastal village of Cayucos

Good Long Rides:

Route 1 north of SLO:

This is the classic long ride here. If you like coastal scenery, this is the one of the best rides you’ll ever do. You’ll encounter flats and rolling hills for over 50 miles up to San Simeon, at which Route 1 becomes very steep and twisty up through Ragged Point, Big Sur, and all the way to the Monterey Bay. Route 1 up through Cayucos (20 miles north of SLO) is a great area for tempo and interval workouts because of its smoothly graded rolling terrain.

Over the Coastal Ranges:

Accessing the rural roads via either the Cuesta Grade or Old Creek Rd (There are a few more options, but these are the best) will be worth your while. You’ll find rural well-paved country roads as far as your heart desires. Lots of moderate hills and long rollers and little flats, so the cycling here is fairly relentless. It can get quite hot up there and water spots are in short supply, so come prepared and hydrated.


There are lots of great places to run here, you it helps a lot if you don’t mind driving a little to get to these spots. A very good resource is the Runner’s World article about SLO:,5033,s6-188-0-0-1335,00.html
Another good source on the web about running in the area is Be sure to check out their extensive links page

Laguna Lake Open Space:

Access this area off of Madonna Rd. Wide-open, mostly flat dirt trails await you here.
A good place to do long runs, easy runs, and tempo workouts.
The Laguna Lake open space gives you wide dirt trails
traversing a broad flat field, with great scenery all around.
Click on the photo to view the full size image.

Cal-Poly Loop:

You can start and finish this very hilly rural run at the Cal-Poly track (which is available for public use except during track and field practice) for a nice 9 miler, to which you can easily add on at the track or on trails branching off from the loop to make this a challenging long run. Great scenery and lots of cows and horses. I recommend running with someone who has done this run before when you first try out this loop, because it can get a little confusing at parts.

Montana de Oro:

A real gold mine of coastal trail running - arguably the best on the whole California coast. Flat or mountainous terrain is available to you with an extensive trail system covering this state park. You can find the trail map at the park headquarters about 3 miles down the road after entering the park by following the signs.

By Greg Remaly